Tuesday, July 8, 2008

American Ingenuity

I believe there is a tool for every job and a job for every tool. Although my father would probably be quick to tell you that I haven't always felt so strongly about this: Something about using his fine-toothed hacksaw to cut a 2x4 comes to mind. Oh, and the countless times I ruined a good pair of his anvil pruners by using them to cut high tensile wire. But sometime after the childhood antics with my brothers, I started having to buy my own tools and things changed. But, whatever. The thing is, I'm really not a big fan of improvisation these days.

Ask Eric about helping me in the kitchen, and he will tell you that my feelings about the "proper tool" get even stronger there. Back when we were just dating, he once started cutting a watermelon with a big serrated bread knife. After a minor freak out on my part, he subsequently (immediately) got a detailed lesson on the different types of kitchen knives and their uses. (He is a good man. Despite him thinking I was absolutely crazy that day (everyday?) as I took away the bread knife and handed him a large slicer/carver, he still went on to ask me to marry him.)

When we moved to Brasil, we both had to be somewhat selective about which tools we brought along. The space in our sole air shipment was quite limited. But for the kitchen, I managed to bring 2 mixers, a food processor, a blender, 2 crockpots, an electric skillet, a juicer, a complete set of knives, my entire Calphalon cookware (and utensil) collection, an electric fondue pot, no less than 4 heat-resistant rubber scrapers, and a professional Belgium waffle maker, among other things. You know, just the bare necessities. Included in the abundance of items left behind were cookie sheets and specialized cake pans along with my rather large assortment of cake decorating supplies.

As we prepared to celebrate the 4th of July down here in Brasil, I had to improvise. In the kitchen. It was not the best of times.

We were invited to a really fun 4th of July Cookout on Saturday by our American friend who is a professor at a local university here in Belo Horizonte. She has made a tradition of celebrating the 4th with her Brasilian students and friends by hosting an American cookout complete with grilled hamburgers, BBQ wings, chili, coleslaw, chocolate chip cookies, and other delectable treats. I offered to bring the cake I've been making for the 4th of July since I was about 10 years old: the flag cake.

Trouble is, I don't have a single cake decorating tool here besides an offset metal spatula (or um, make that 3 offset metal spatulas, actually). Decorated cakes exist abundantly here in Brasil, so I figured I would easily find a star tip and decorator's bag at one of the many grocery stores I went to in search of blueberries or blackberries or something I could use for a blue background. Unfortunately, cake decorating supplies must fall into the category of so many other things here that you have to go to a specialty store to find. However, after my exhaustive search for a bluish fruit to use, I was out of time to start locating specialty cake decorating stores.

And so, that is where I had to improvise. A ziplock bag with the corner clipped off became my decorating bag. The results? A totally edible cake. With wobbly lines and misshapen stars. I really started wishing that I had left behind just one of the offset metal spatulas or heat-resistant rubber scrapers and thrown in a star tip or two. Really.

And then, maybe just to torture me - I'm not really sure, Eric requested I make another one for him to take to the office for a late American Independence Day treat for everyone. (I was out of blackberries though, so colored sugar had to suffice.)

In case you are still wondering, it's pretty much impossible to neatly decorate a cake with a ziplock bag. I love using them to drizzle a little melted chocolate over homemade truffles or chocolate dipped strawberries, but not so much for my purposes this weekend. But, I did it. I improvised. I made due with what I had in my less-than-perfectly stocked kitchen. And now I would like to forget that it ever happened. Thank you.


Mamasphere said...

You're going to need to have someone send you some cake decorating supplies before another 4th rolls around. I only say that because I understand having to improvise, and NOT because your cake looked lacking, lol.

Ray Adkins said...


You are absolutely right, in Brazil, at least in Sao Paulo, I doubt BH would be much different, we have specialty stores that sells cake decorating tools, you can also get chocolate in those large bars, specialy to melt and make bonbons and chocolate in different shapes, you will also find the different trays with the shapes, you will find the cookie sheets you are missing so much and a million other things to supply your kitchen with the right tools.
By the way, your cakes look great!
I think your American enginuity came to play big time with the ziploc bags idea...

Take care


Ray Adkins said...

oops, I meant ingenuity...

Tony said...

We can bring you some cake decorating supplies if you can wait until September! And we are taking requests for other items as long as they are small. You did a great job on the cake anyway! I always wondered why my pruners were always dull...hmmmm


Bru said...

Emily, you can usually (always, at least in São Paulo) find cake decorating supplies in big supermarkets... you should look for it next to "leite condensado", "creme de leite", confectionary sugar etc.
Hope you find it, it is not that hard to find, I guess you were just out of time to keep looking :)

Corinne said...

As the host of said party I just want to say that wobbily lines or no, the cake literally "disappeared" before our very eyes!! Once the first piece was cut, the cake was history! Everyone loved it and commented how delicious it was!

To get cake decorating supplies in BH, try the Mercado Central and look for a store with "artigos para festas". There should also be some of these in the downtown area as well. However, I have never found muffin-size paper of foil wrappers (the largest brigadeiro is not quite the right size), non-rimmed cookie sheets or a real bunt pan there or at houseware stores (at least at a price I was willing to pay), so these you should have brought down. The cake decorating kits are the plastic kind, and they are not very resistent. I have one, along with muffin tins, cookie sheets, an angel cake pan and a tortilla press, anytime you want to borrow them. I may charge a baked good or five as a rental fee though :)

Anonymous said...

Maria's on Rua Dos Timbiras near Rua Sao Paulo
has chocolate, baking pans of all shapes, sugar of many kinds and decorating supplies.